A homestay on a farm in the lush, fertile Terai region of Uttarakhand, in the plains along the foothills of the Himalayas. A four and a half hour train ride making it a breezy 258 kilometres from Delhi and a perfectly lovely getaway. Can you picture it? Some much-needed TLC and always-welcome TGIF, rolled into one. Bingo!
"Way Back When” as it has been fondly dubbed now, has been in the family for a few generations. Radhika Singh who currently runs it, is third generation to decide that it wasn’t big cities at all, but that it was quiet time, animals and physical labour that really made her happy.
With its many crops, mango and guava orchards, vegetables, not to mention the paakhar trees (a variant of the fig family) which is special because it continues to produce oxygen even at night, Way Back When is two sweet cottage style homes nestled in the little orchard by the main house which has a few mango and litchi trees, a chikku tree, a custard apple tree, a jamun tree and a few saplings of grapefruit and orange on their way to fruiting some time soon, a pool, and finally, a whole menagerie of animals including, but not limited to, four German Shepards – Cosmo, Misty, Max and Sasha – if you want to make friends, fifteen cows (of varying sizes), four guinea fowls, a goose and some poultry! That sounds like there’s something for everyone all right.
Fly the Coop
I caught up with Radhika last week over lingering mugs of steaming chai, under the shade of the fruit trees, her dogs romping the grounds in glee, when a much needed break from Delhi and it’s noise and fumes, seemed in order.
She’s a natural conversationalist and begins, well, at the beginning! “Having grown up in the mountains nature and a slow paced life became a very important part of my existence which of course I didn’t realise at all when I was younger,” she laughs. “I finished school, did the regular rounds, you know – what was next, what I should do with my life and all that. I moved to France for university because I didn’t want to go to an English speaking country. I was to study psychology there but my primary focus became discovering life and figuring out what it was that was truly me. The process pushed me to accept the truth that always stared me in the face, which was that I was built to work with my hands. Working with the land and animals and plants is what satisfies me, gives me peace of mind.”
“By the time I was 25, I moved back and began work here,” she makes a sweeping gesture of all that lies around us. “Our long term plan is to make the farm completely self-sustainable, our own energy, water harvesting, the works – all just so we can live a life where everything that we need, we can provide for ourselves, as far as possible. Grow your own, make your own, so on and so forth. Fortunately, I also love to cook and bake. It’s then, simply a matter of making this place, and my life, something that can be self-sufficient in every way.”
As far as mantras go, it doesn’t get any simpler, but there is also a lot of sense and depth to Radhika’s method. It’s not for everyone, and it’s not enough to just have passion I discover. The real work only gets done with vision, discipline and long term commitment.
“Way Back When” is a traditional farm with regular farming and its annual patterns. “When we say traditional farming, we mean crops like sugarcane, wheat, paddy, peas, corn, mustard and the mango and guava orchards,” Radhika explains. “A small section of the land is for cattle fodder. In another small section, we are now setting up polyhouses for vegetables and flowers. To do exotic vegetables out in the open, exposed to the elements is quite a challenge since we are in India – rife with incredible insect life.
Visitors can help with farm chores and learn anything about the farm that they’re interested in – the planting, harvesting or de-weeding, they can help with the cattle, the poultry, with our orchards, anything at all. There’s also a few bicycles if you want to just ride off into the country. The forest is about ten kilometers away, and there’s a beautiful eucalyptus plantation only four kilometers from the house. There’s also a very large dam with all sorts of migratory birds in the winter.
Apart from that you can use the pool, take plenty of walks… the general idea is to come here, unwind, sleep, eat, and catch up on whatever it is that needs catching up with in your life!”
Tea and a Tête-à-tête
1. Why here? Why a farm and a home stay?
“Here because this is where I have spent my most peaceful and memorable vacations from boarding school. The cattle, the dogs, being surrounded by the openness and honesty of these animals and plants and their unconditional love, the nearness to everything that I hold dearest, the pleasure of planting a seed, watching it grow and in no time bear fruit, the hard work everyday involved in just having things function the way they’re supposed to, the kilos upon kilos of mangoes, litchis and fresh veggies that we grow...
The farmstay because I wanted to share this lifestyle with others. My family and I have the good fortune to be able to live this life, I do believe however that the more people are exposed to it the more they will, perhaps, develop a sense of respect and an affection towards all living things.”
2. What do you love the most about what you do?
“The peace of mind at the end of the day, the absolute cut off from society. And the animals. God yes, the animals!”
3. If not this, what else do you think you might have ended up doing?
“ I can see myself as a vet, or a teacher perhaps. In an alternate life.”
4. What’s on your bookshelf, ipod and midnight snacking shelf.
“I have always been partial to historical classics, classics in general and philosophical books. There is plenty on my book shelf! Music goes more or less the same way – I listen to a lot of old school blues, jazz, classical, funk, old rock, folk and a little indie. Don’t have a midnight snacking shelf since I’m never up at those hours. Its bed at ten and rise and shine at a half past five!”
5. Do you have a favourite vacation spot? What do you do to unwind?
“Can’t remember the last time I went on vacation! Can’t remember the last time I was wound up – living here! I only get wound up when I visit friends in the city. My favourite getaway besides the farm is Nainital.”
6. What is the one thing you indulge in often, or after a crazy day in general at home or at work?
“Well my work place is my home. Indulgence really doesn’t fit my personality, but yes once in a while I’ll have a beer with my dad. But mostly it’s just a nice long swim before I get dinner ready, and a movie with dinner. Simple pleasures.”
7. Moments that stand out for you, with respect to your home in the country?
“Can’t pinpoint any one moment but yes, the first time I saw a chick hatch, the first time I got a legitimate cow lick hair style from one of my cows while giving her a bath, seeing a newborn calf frolic and then dash for the first time… its always moments like those.”
8. Five words to define your brand of creativity.
“Simple. Forthright. Honest. Open hearted and Natural.”
Getting there: Call Radhika Singh, 9927077009 or email her at email@example.com for elaborate and detailed instructions to get to Way Back When. They also have a facebook page through which you can get in touch. Prices, start at Rs 3500 per head per night.